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Updated January 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best gel fireplaces

There’s nothing quite like the warm, soft crackle of a fire on a cold winter’s night. Traditionally, to enjoy this you’d need to install a fireplace, build a chimney, and lay in a supply of split wood, all time-consuming and expensive steps on the way to enjoying that cozy fire. Luckily, you now have a variety of easier and less expensive options available when you yearn for that fireplace experience. One of the best is a gel fireplace. 

A gel fireplace provides both light and heat while producing none of the ash, soot, or toxic fumes of a wood-burning fireplace. It is also a fairly inexpensive way to provide that fireplace ambiance and the peace of mind of having a backup source of light and heat.

This buying guide covers the specifics of gel fireplaces, such as the various designs, burn times, and installation.  For some of the best gel fireplaces on the market, check out the handpicked options that we’ve included with this guide.

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Because they produce no smoke or soot, a gel fireplace is the perfect fireplace choice for those who have asthma, COPD, or another respiratory condition.

Key considerations

Type

Gel fireplaces come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different needs. Some of the more common types include tabletop, wall-mounted, and freestanding.

Tabletop: One popular type of gel fireplace is the tabletop fireplace. These tend to be more compact than other types and are usually used as a table centerpiece or on a shelf or end table. If you’re interested in a gel fireplace that you can move from one spot to another, a tabletop model is probably your best bet. These are also a great size for use in something like a dorm room or office.

Wall-mounted: These gel fireplaces are designed to be hung on a wall like a picture or mirror. As such, they aren’t very deep, although some are designed to fit into a recess in the wall (which requires more effort in terms of installation). If your living space is small, a wall-mounted gel fireplace could be a great choice.

Freestanding: These gel fireplaces are units that sit on the floor. They range from fireplace inserts to corner fireplaces to full-fledged imitation fireplaces that you can push up against a wall. Freestanding gel fireplaces often have some form of mantel and fake “logs” to complete the look of a wood-burning fireplace.

Burn time

Gel fireplaces typically use canisters of jellied isopropyl alcohol, which burn for a few hours. If the fireplace has room for several canisters, you can choose to burn one at a time and extend the burn time.

Heat

A gel fireplace that produces more heat will warm a room more quickly and warm a larger room more effectively. While gel fireplaces tend to generate less heat than comparable gas or electric fireplaces, some can put out a sizable amount of heat. Note that the more gel canisters the fireplace contains, the more heat it produces (if they’re all burning at once). Gel fireplaces typically range from 2,000 to 18,000 Btu. Base the Btu rating of a gel fireplace by the size of the room you’re trying to heat. The general formula here is 20 Btu per square foot of room, so a 500-square-foot room would need a gel fireplace capable of producing 10,000 Btu. 

Assembly

Gel fireplaces range from simple tabletop models to large freestanding units complete with a mantel, so their assembly varies considerably. While smaller gel fireplaces usually require little or no assembly, larger units can take up to an hour or more to put together. As with all such projects, you should be sure that the instructions are clear and verify that you have all the parts, hardware, and tools you need before beginning to put the fireplace together.

Installation

Where gel fireplaces really shine is in their installation, and that’s because there typically isn’t any. Once you’ve put it together, just move the fireplace to where you want it to go in your home and start using it. Unlike other types of fireplaces, you don’t need to worry about installing any wires, pipes, or venting to use a gel fireplace.

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Did You Know?
Electric fireplaces typically operate using quartz bulbs and fans, but gel fireplaces use live flames to produce heat and light.
Staff
BestReviews

Features

Materials

Gel fireplaces are made of a variety of materials. Stainless steel is fairly common, both for its durability and its ability to stand up to rust and corrosion. Plus, it’s versatile. Gel fireplaces made of stainless steel can fit in with many styles of décor, particularly if you’re partial to modern accents.

Other materials you can find include hammered copper, concrete, ceramic, and even wood, particularly on freestanding fireplaces with ornate mantels. Tempered glass is sometimes used as a shield for safety.

Components

Fuel reservoir: this is the container that holds the fuel canisters. Tabletop fireplaces usually hold one canister, while larger fireplaces can hold two or more. The more canisters the fuel reservoir can hold, the more heat it can produce and the more it costs to operate.

Feet: Some gel fireplaces, particularly tabletop models, include rubber feet. These keep the fireplace from moving if it’s bumped or scratching the table or other surface it’s sitting on.

Extras: Some tabletop gel fireplaces include decorative additions, such as stones or other material that can be packed in around the gel canister. Larger fireplaces may include some type of screen or grate, either included with it or available for an additional fee.

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Did You Know?
If you experience periodic power outages, a gel fireplace makes an inexpensive backup source of light and heat.
Staff
BestReviews

Pricing

Inexpensive: Gel fireplaces start at around $50 to $100. In this range, you’ll find smaller, simpler tabletop fireplaces. These are typically made from concrete and usually only hold one fuel canister.

Mid-range: For $100 to $200, larger tabletop fireplaces are available, many of which are made of metal. Gel fireplaces in this range tend to be a bit more durable than less expensive options and have more elegant designs.

Expensive: If you want a gel fireplace that really stands out, you should look at those that cost $200 to $300 and more. These models include inserts for use in existing fireplaces and larger freestanding options. These tend to be more durable and decorative and hold more canisters for increased heat.

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Did You Know?
Because it produces no sparks or toxic fumes, a gel fireplace is a good option for those with pets or young children.
Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Use your gel fireplace outside too. A portable tabletop gel fireplace can also do double-duty as a convenient summertime deck or patio fireplace. Just be sure to bring it in out of the elements when it’s not in use.
  • Let a gel fireplace cool completely before refilling it.
  • Check that all the parts and hardware you need are included. If you buy a wall-mounted gel fireplace, be sure that it ships with all the necessary mounting hardware.
  • Do not move a gel fireplace when it’s lit. If you want to move it to another room or table, extinguish the flame and wait until it’s cool to the touch before attempting to move it.
  • Buy the fuel in bulk. The fuel for gel fireplaces can be pricey. If you plan to use your gel fireplace often, verify that you can buy the fuel in bulk to save money.
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Disposable fuel canisters used in gel fireplaces can produce the iconic crackling-fire sound that lends an air of authenticity to your fireplace.

FAQ

Q. How easy are these fireplaces to clean?

A. Compared to a wood-burning fireplace with its smoke, ash, and soot, a gel fireplace is extremely easy to clean. Because the alcohol-based fuel burns cleanly, you won’t have anywhere near the mess that you get when burning wood. A simple wipe with a rag now and then, perhaps with a bit of glass, metal, or furniture cleaner, should keep your gel fireplace looking like new.

Q. How safe are gel fireplaces to use?

A. Anything that produces fire is potentially hazardous. For safety’s sake, keep a fire extinguisher handy any time you use an open flame. That said, a gel fireplace is one of the safer types of fireplace you can own. It creates no sparks or toxic fumes, so you can operate them ventless, meaning you don’t need to worry about poking a hole in your wall or venting your gel fireplace into a chimney. Some gel fireplaces include glass panels that act as shields, so you can easily see the flames but not come into contact with them accidentally. 

Q. What type of fuel does a gel fireplace use?

A. Gel fireplaces typically use jellied isopropyl alcohol that comes in canisters, much like Sterno. While these canisters can be expensive if you operate the fireplace often, they’re convenient, easy to replace, and easy to extinguish. To kill the fire, simply place the lid back on top of the canister. Because the canister can be closed, any remaining fuel can be safely stored for future use.

Fireplaces that use a pourable fuel, typically ethanol, are called ethanol fireplaces. These are different from gel fireplaces, although you can buy a cup converter so you can use ethanol more easily in your gel fireplace.

Before using your fireplace, be sure to verify what type of fuel your fireplace burns, either by checking the included instructions or by contacting the seller or manufacturer. Failure to use the correct fuel in a gel fireplace can lead to excessive fumes or even cause a fire.
 

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